NY Corrections Union Plans Six-Figure PR Campaign

ALBANY, NY – The union representing the state’s corrections officers is going on the offensive with an approximately six-figure advertising campaign in an attempt to reshape a narrative that has painted the state prison system in a negative light in recent months.

In once again striking up its calls for additional resources and training, the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association also is explicitly calling out the state Department of Corrections and Community Services for “shifting the blame to the officers who put their lives on the line to keep New Yorkers safe” amid recent exposés on abuses of inmates that show both sides in similarly unflattering lights.

“Any dysfunction or inability to properly investigate falls at the feet of DOCCS Administration,” NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said in a statement. “It is not the role of the ‘powerful corrections union,’ as the New York Times put it, to make sure the Office of Special Investigations operates efficiently. If they didn’t train their investigators sufficiently to competently handle internal investigations, the responsibility lies with the supervisors of that office and those above them, the Acting Commissioner and his deputies.”

The DOCCS Office of Special Investigations — which looks into allegations of inmate abuse, among other things — has been under scrutiny since last year, with the Times Union reporting in January on court documents that detail cover-ups, nepotism and sexual harassment within that office. The former head of the then-DOCCS inspector general’s office pleaded guilty to misdemeanor coercion this year as he went to trial sexual harassment and other charges.

In a statement, DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey pointed to reforms that have been made to the special investigations office, including the hiring of a new top official from the state attorney general’s office and “aggressively investigating any allegation of employee misconduct in our facilities.”

“We will not allow the rhetoric of those with an agenda to distract the department, as well as our 29,000 hardworking men and women, from fulfilling their responsibility to ensure the safety and security of our facilities and parole offices,” Mailey said.

Verbal barbs aside, the NYSCOPBA ad campaign, which may include television, radio and other advertisements, will in part focus on statistics similar to those the union has highlighted in the past in an attempt to raise public awareness of the dangers within state prisons. NYSCOBPA points to DOCCS data showing that inmate-on-staff assaults were up 59 percent between 2011 and 2015, and inmate-on-inmate assaults rose 38 percent over that period.

At the same time, DOCCS points out that the 2014-2015 state budget approved the hiring of 103 additional security staff as state facilities and required the department to perform security audits at all facilities over three years. Eighteen security staffing audits, which are being finalized, were conducted during fiscal year 2015-16, according to DOCCS.

From The Times-Union